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March 19th, 2015
Mourning is work–a work that wearies. Or maybe it just seems that way.
In the wake of my father’s death most things take more energy than I remember. It’s almost like I’ve got an equatorial capacity at an alpine height–the air hangs thinner where mourning is in the atmosphere.
The weariness comes with what it asks of you. To mourn is to come to terms with a new reality. It’s a labor that requires a whole restructuring of your entire way of thinking and seeing–and feeling. Like moving to a new location where everything is different–the language, the scenery, the local culture–mourning entails submitting to a kind of disorientation, of disequilibrium, that only time, effort, and not a few tears can allay.
Mourning provokes a concentration of attention that our otherwise mundane existence allows us–or encourages us–to avoid. And the thoughts to which we’re drawn so fiercely do not let us detach from them easily. They command our concern whether or not we want to entertain them.
But that forced attentiveness can be as salutary as it is sapping. As for the latter, when death comes near we mourn not only the one we love but mourn a little in advance what shall befall us in time. As we look upon death we feel its approach. And in its wake we wonder if life shall henceforth be enshrouded in a deathly sheen. The poet Philip Larkin captured the temptation to let death’s darkness overshadow what remains of our lives in his poem “Aubade.” (HT: Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss)
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.Till then I see what’s really always there:Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,Making all thought impossible but howAnd where and when I shall myself die.Arid interrogation: yet the dreadOf dying, and being dead,Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
So with death foisted upon us it’s nothing short of exhausting to refuse death’s sting from overtaking us prematurely.
But rather than seek to escort thoughts of death out the door of our minds as quickly and summarily as possible, it’s a strenuous yet necessary work to let death, so to speak, work life into us. Not morose but medicinal was the thought in the mind of the Preacher of Ecclesiastes in chapter 7.
A good name is better than precious ointment,
and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
Death steals life. But it “serves” also to heighten life’s worth–sharpen our sense of its glory. Sarah Condon recently shared the story of a doctor at Stanford whose terminal illness would soon take him from his baby daughter. She cherishes and shares stories like these, whether of those she loves or those she comes to love in hearing their stories, because they in a sense apprentice her in death. That is, they remove the veil between her consciousness and the inexorable truth of her dying, as well as burnish the beauty all around which we tend to diminish, if only because we think things will always be as they are now:
Perhaps we love these stories because they give us a moment to practice dying. To think about the people we love more than we can bear and to consider what we hope they will remember about us. And so these stories momentarily remind us to slow down and to hold babies more or to worry about money less. And they open up that normally forbidden place in ourselves. That place that reminds us that death is often unfair and entirely unavoidable.
In that sense death does us the favor of cleansing our vision with and through our tears. It sends a bow shot across our penchant for triviality, for ingratitude. It unmasks our casualness toward life as pure and groundless presumption. So while mourning asks so much of us that we become depleted in fulfilling it demands, we dare not ask it to ask less of us. The weariness it creates notwithstanding, its potential for lasting benefit can’t be overstated.
But to find the profit of mourning we need help, else we become either too glum or too glib. So we turn to those passages that confront us with and console us in death; and we appeal to the poets who cast those same notions in other vibrant forms. (I sought to do both for my own father’s service.) We make them our food, mixed with our tears to be sure, until we find a kind of nourishment in them.
And in the nourishment comes a kind of rest–one unafraid to be weary, one maybe just a bit less afraid to die. The story we have in death is only bleak. The story we’ve been given in Christ has only hope. Our faith in that story will ebb and flow as surely as our bodies will vacillate between health and affliction. As Christian Wiman puts it, “Faith steals upon you like dew: some days you wake and it is there. And like dew, it gets burned off in the rising sun of anxieties. ambitions, distractions.”
But as others have said well, it’s not the strength of your faith but its object that matters. Whom you’re holding onto is more important than how sturdy is your grip; for whom you hold is likewise, and moreover, holding you.
That is its own comfort, and it allows us to countenance death with courage rather than cower before it in fear. And as we turn to our beds each night, as we’ve done thousands of nights before, we may practice our dying so that we might find our living. As it says in the Valley of Vision’s “Sleep” (thanks again, Sarah Condon)
May my frequent lying down make me familiar with death,
the bed I approach remind me of the grave,
the eyes I now close picture me to their final closing.
Keep me always ready, waiting for admittance to thy presence.
Weaken my attachment to earthly things.
We’d mentioned in the previous Backstory how we had an idea that might enhance our collective memorization of Romans 8. It will require a little courage on your part, and access to just about any recording device, preferably but not necessarily of the video kind.
We’d like to assemble a montage of all those memorizing that chapter (It can be done, I assure you!) by having everyone make a recording of themselves reciting it, and then sending us your video to this email address. You can use a camcorder, or your smartphone, or even industry-grade camera equipment! (If you only have access to an audio recorder, that’s fine. But if you can borrow someone’s cameraphone, that’s even better.)
Lent’s not over, so the time for memorization remains. And far be it from us to make the end of Lent a hard deadline. But do be about the business of planting Paul’s words in your head. And then send us your recitation. And while you’re at it, send us your outtakes, too!
Meanwhile, the value of memorization lies less within stretching your mind to remember larger quantities of information than about how it then allows the mind to feed on the import of those words. That feeding we like to call meditation–not the eastern version which seeks to empty the mind of all things (think Yoda) but an effort to fill and focus your mind on what is meant to strengthen your innermost person. Joel Beeke has written an essay on why the Puritans so valued the practice the discipline of meditation on Scripture. The twenty-two benefits of meditation he compiled can be found here.
As we’ve said previously, Romans 8 contains the sum and substance of the gospel and addresses almost comprehensively everything that confronts our trust in it. Now, one may read those words–even memorize them–and be left as unmoved by them as if they were spoken in a foreign tongue. But it’s when we turn to meditate upon them that they may become more than what a superficial consideration may yield.
Meditation isn’t magic; it doesn’t formulaically lead to certain effects. But just as poets discover intricacies and beauties through patient pondering on even the most commonplace things, so our meditation on words–words of life and death–may offer something more–something we need, something we’d be bereft without.
People don’t merely have children. They’re entrusted with children. And as those thusly entrusted, parents are admonished by God to raise those children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
But that responsibility to children does not lie entirely in the purview of parents. It is a community endeavor. The church who acts as midwife to those who undergo rebirth into Christ is that which has been, by design, commissioned to give assistance to its parents in their commission to raise their children.
From the moment of its own “birth,” CtK has sought to answer that call on behalf of parents (and expand its participation in that call of late). And it’s done so in large part through the ministry of the nursery–that hallowed (but often raucous) hall where the holy work of caring for children occurs week in week out.
Karla Pollock has spearheaded that effort for over three years now. Debby Comer and Jan Van Staalduinen have come alongside her in recent years. Now, so that they might devote themselves to other areas of ministry within CtK, the Session has begun the process of seeking to replace these dedicated people with others who might both love children and have a knack for organization.
This Sunday we’ll make the first official invitation to members of CtK who might be willing to become the leadership team for this vital aspect of our ministry of faithful presence to one another. Rest assured this will be shared work–not falling to one person at any time. We’re looking to incorporate 3-4 people into this team. The sum and substance of the responsibility will be to:
- schedule and remind volunteers
- set up and close down nursery on Sunday mornings
- maintain nursery policies and procedures
Maybe you satisfy those prerequisites of loving children and organization, but wonder if you could really invest your time in this direction? For now, just contact any of our nursery leadership team–or in particular, Karla Pollock, and just ask questions.
It’s our desire to solidify a transition by June, but with available consultative help from the present team this summer.
Please consider serving CtK in this vital way.
Sidenote: while 2nd hour nursery is now in full swing, we’ll suspend that 2nd hour offering for the months of June and July.
Speaking of children, we’re about to add four more to our CtK family in the next two months. That’s a lot more mouths to feed. Wondering if you could help our families with newborns. One of our newest members, Liesl Raikes, has a plan and a request.
Have you looked around the church lately and noticed that we will soon have an influx of new babies worshiping with us? We will have the wonderful opportunity to be faithfully present to these young families by ministering to them through the provision of meals! Talk to Liesl Raikes for more specifics on how to help out, and get ready to sign up once these precious little ones start arriving. Anyone can serve in this way, and all kinds of meals are appreciated! [email protected] or 214-952-1087
In his book Life Together, pastor, theologian, and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote (HT: Justin Taylor)
Sin demands to have a man by himself.
It withdraws him from the community.
The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.
Sin wants to remain unknown.
It shuns the light.
In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.
We’re turning this Sunday to the “I Am” statement of Jesus when he says “I am the light of the world.” (Jn 8:12-30). Bonhoeffer underscores the necessity of community in the battle against the darkness of sin, lest isolation compound the tenacity and terror of one’s own transgressions.
Light figures heavily from cover to cover of the bible. For Jesus to identify his very self with that divine light is only the one of many astonishing things he says in the passage. So we’ll grapple with his provocative claims and ask what it means for us to regard him as that Light.
Community Quick Hits
- The Biblical Performance Troupe will finally make their way in our direction this Sunday night. Come along.
- Join us Good Friday, April 3rd, at 6:30pm for “a liturgy of last words“
- Our next Introduction to CtK Conversation will be May 16th.
When you pray, remember to pray for
- Fairmeadows Baptist Church’s pastor Dee Carlile who has recently begun treatment for colon cancer
- Sheri McMillan and Patrick Lafferty, mourning the death of parents–her mother, his father
- our soon-to-be parents of newborns: the Elams, Chambillas, Martinezes, and Garmons
- Christy Lafferty who is suffering from a kidney stone
- our near-term efforts to serve the poor in our community, as we challenged a couple weeks back
- our search for a new venue now underway with the help of a realtor
Any life that does not take account of death, that does not, in one way or another, hear the annihilating silence inside every sound, the nullifying stillness within every action, is a life that can neither harness nor redress that dark energy–which is to say, a life of which death already has possession. (Christian Wiman)